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The following eight pages of color taken by members of Dr. Houston's 1953 expedition to K2 dramatically illustrate the task and show that challenging the great peaks of the Himalayas is not for the faint of heart.
The trek to the foot of a great Himalayan peak is a perilous venture in itself. The approach is barred by an ever-writhing sea of ice. Climbers laden with 50-pound packs of food and equipment inch across rumbling, restless, frozen waterfalls that sweep down from distant peaks (left, below) which tower two miles above the valley floor. Constant pressure of ice and snow daily gouges new crevasses hundreds of feet deep and up to 50 feet wide. There is no semblance of life, but there is ample evidence of death. The frozen bodies of migratory birds, killed while trying to fly high passes during violent storms, dot the ice field. No map can lead a mountain climber through this icy graveyard.
The Climb up an overhanging gendarme (rock pinnacle) 80 feet high is like trying to scale a Gothic church steeple. The fractured rock offers only ice-crusted handholds but skilled mountaineers find this challenge exhilarating. Falls from such treacherous spots are rare?the danger is too obvious to permit carelessness.
Two-man tents, which often must hold four climbers and their supplies, perch precariously on four-by-seven-foot platforms built up with frozen rock. During storms, men huddle in mummy-shaped sleeping bags for days while winds buffet the canvas and scour the slope.
Blizzards and subfreezing temperature strike bundled climbers who may have been sweltering in shirt sleeves under the blazing sun less than a half hour earlier. Since the mountain climbing season lasts only a few weeks, the band of men must press blindly on.
Gargantuan avalanches thunder down from all peaks after a heavy snowfall. Under the weight of fresh snow, a chunk of ice the size of a city block suddenly wrenches free from the frozen heights. A roar shatters the stillness as hundreds of tons of ice slide slowly over the brink and plummet thousands of feet to the glacier below, tearing snow, rock and more ice from the mountainside. Any living thing within a half mile faces suffocating annihilation.
On steep pitch roped climbers chop footholds in the ice and snow. Above 20,000 feet no one really enjoys climbing. Each step demands monumental effort. Straining lungs gasp for thin, bitter air, the senses are dulled to any danger. The climber is like a sick man walking in a dream.
Up marble buttress expedition hoists gear on an aerial tramway. To launch an attack on the summit, a series of six to eight camps are established and stocked, each within a day's climb of the next. The highest must be within 1,200 feet of the top so that two men can make a final dash and return in one day without suffering frostbite or death from exposure.
This grim face, burned by sun rays, shows another hazard of climbing.
The Summit is but a symbol of success, to the climber the effort to reach this goal is more important. What remains after the days of numbing cold, screaming winds, agonizing thirst, aching bodies, ravishing frostbite and ever-yawning death are the unforgettable images of icy splendor, the knowledge that once again man has gone beyond his supposed limits and in this struggle has proved himself more worthy. These are the rewards which call climbers back to the mountains.